“No! no!” said Bilbo. “I didn’t mean that. I meant, is there no way round [Mirkwood]?”
“There is, if you care to go two hundred miles or so out of your way north, and twice that south. But you would get a safe path even then. There are no safe paths in this part of the world. Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun where you go. Before you could get round Mirkwood in the North you would be right among the slops of the Grey Mountains, and they are simply stiff with goblins, hobgoblins, and orcs of the worst description. Before you could get round it in the South, you would get into the land of the Necromancer; and even you, Bilbo, won’t need me to tell you tales of that black sorcerer. I don’t advise you to go anywhere near places overlooked by his dark tower! Stick to the forest-track, keep your spirits up, hope for the best…” (121)
J.R.R. Tolkein, The Hobbit
For Numa himself also, to whom no prophet of God, no holy angel was sent, was driven to have recourse to hydromancy, that he might see the images of the gods in the water (or, rather, appearances whereby the demons made sport of him), and might learn from them what he ought to ordain and observe in the sacred rites. This kind of divination, says Varro, was introduced from the Persians, and was used by Numa himself, and at an after time by the philosopher Pythagoras. In this divination, he says, they also inquire at the inhabitants of the nether world, and make use of blood; and this the Greeks call νεκρομαντείαν. But whether it be called necromancy or hydromancy it is the same thing, for in either case the dead are supposed to foretell future things… let him who does not desire to live a pious life even now, seek eternal life by means of such rites. But let him who does not wish to have fellowship with malign demons have no fear for the noxious superstition wherewith they are worshipped, but let him recognize the true religion by which they are unmasked and vanquished. (VII.35)
St Augustine of Hippo, bishop, The City of God
In the recent adaptation of Tolkien’s The Hobbit, a good bit has been given over to the role of “the Necromancer,” a character who only receives two rather short references in the book itself (p. 30 and above), but what is understood to another name for Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor. Necromancy, the communication with and divination by the dead, has often been called “the dark arts,” an brilliant corruption of necro- [corpse], into nigro- [black].
And yet there is that space in the creed where we affirm the Communion of Saint, that is the Church on Earth and in Heaven: “At the present time some of [Christ’s] disciples are pilgrims on earth; others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating ‘in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is.”‘
There is something more, much more, in the Communion of Saints than divination, asking for petty insight into the future or about cheap worldly cares. By the light of faith we do not look to or into the future, nor is divination what hope is. The Saints who are already dwell in the Heavenly reality gaze on the God, triune and one. The Saints of the earthly realm see by faith, keeping watch for Christ, for they know not when the master of the house returns. The light of faith and the assurance of hope only make the earthly pilgrim ready.
“Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness…. They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus…. So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped.”
As for our dead – those who are still being purified in the hope of the heavenly reality – it is they who rely on us, not us on them by divination, necromancy or otherwise. It is by our prayers and intercessions, and thusly by the great merits of Christ, our mediator and redeemer, for their sins are forgiven before judgment. Our prayers for our dead ultimately arise from charity, which in turn draws us closer to the Triune God.
Jules Eugene Lenepveu, “The Martyrs in the Catacombs” (1855)
n., the art of predicting the future by supposed communication with the dead; (more generally) divination, sorcery, witchcraft, enchantment. See black magic.
[Classical Latin necromantīa, evocation of the dead, a name for the part of the Odyssey (Book XI) describing Odysseus’ visit to Hades (recorded as a variant of necyomantea (cf. necyomancy) in some MSS. of Pliny), in post-classical Latin also the art of predicting the future by supposed communication with the dead (3rd cent.) < Hellenistic Greek νεκρομαντεία, the art of predicting the future by supposed communication with the dead (first in Origen, 3rd cent. a.d.) < Ancient Greek νεκρο, corpse + μαντεία, divination]